For most of the past week, this space has focused on What the Pope Knew, a CNN documentary that aired Saturday night on the subject of the Pope Benedict XVI’s role in handling allegations of child sexual abuse by priests that came to his attention while (as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) heading Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the reign of John Paul II.

Several readers commented. This one from Muldoon was particularly interesting to me:

Restorative Justice is the only way for the church to move forward in dealing
with the Clergy Sexual Abuse scandal. If the Pope would come clean, establish a
world wide Restorative Justice action this scandal could truly be put behind us
all in a matter of a few years.

Restorative Justice has been used all over the world to resolve injustice. In
order for it to work the pope would have to admit that there was EVIL within his

I have been waiting 49 years for justice please help me find it in my life
time. Tell the Pope we need Restorative Justice NOW

Muldoon’s comment caused me to look up the definition of the since it was a term I was not familiar with. I came across several definitions. One that appealed to me was found was, interestingly, found at a website promoting “green-collar jobs.”. That site defines Restorative Justice this way: “A cost-effective criminal justice approach that is based on reconciliation,
restoration, healing and rehabilitation. Restorative justice refers to a
movement promoting humane, transformative and cost-effective alternatives to our
current punitive, failed and costly system of mass incarceration.

Wikipedia, meanwhile, defines Restorative Justice as “an approach to justice that focuses on
the needs of victims and offenders, instead of the need to satisfy the abstract
principles of law or the need of the community to exact punishment.”

In any event, Restorative Justice stresses the idea of promoting dialogue between victims and accused as opposed to a strict adversarial relationship. To work best it requires goodwill on all sides.

To his credit, I think, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of the “sin within the Church” but victims would like to see those words followed up with actions demonstrating the Church’s sincerity in making things right. The Pope has also met with victims which is a good thing.

But the idea of some sort of ongoing dialogue between the Church and priestly sex abuse victims that is not adversarial and in which victims are actively engaged and empowered in building the path toward greater justice and healing seems like an idea worth trying. 

Such a dialogue should not be aimed at either whitewashing or minimizing what actually happened or in exacting vengeance against the Church.  For everyone’s sake (especially the victims), I hope they can find forgiveness in their hearts. It is through contrition and forgiveness that healing flourishes.

Healing, not retribution or cover-up, needs to be the goal. It’s tough. It’s painful. But it can be done.

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